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US, ROK Militaries May Scale Back Exercises Amid Outbreak

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, left, listens as South Korean National Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, right, speaks during a news conference at Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says the U.S. and South Korean militaries are considering a reduction in training exercises on the Korean peninsula, as South Korea struggles to contain a coronavirus outbreak.

The commander of U.S. forces in Korea and South Korea’s top general “are looking at scaling back the command post training due to concerns about the coronavirus,” Esper told reporters Monday at a Pentagon briefing with his Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo.“

The situation is quite serious,” Jeong said, adding that movement between military units had been limited.

As of Sunday, 13 members of South Korea’s armed forces had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Jeong. He added that members of the Korean armed forces are being prevented from taking vacation breaks or moving to different units in an effort to stop the virus from spreading further.

Both officials said that the alliance’s defense posture would remain strong even in the event of changes to training due to the coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus cases has jumped to 833 in South Korea, and the death toll has risen to seven.

The United States has raised its travel advisories for South Korea and Japan, with fears across the globe that the two Asian nations could possibly become another hotbed of infections outside of China, where the virus originated.

Emerging coronavirus outbreaks have also been seen in Iran and Italy.